Blog by: Sharaddha

3rd Momentum ODI: South Africa v India

 

In cricket, a team’s ranking often tends to become relative varying with performances of teams in the short-term rather than on a long-term basis. The miserable performance of India in the ODIs against South Africa is an example of this disparity that has allowed several questions to be raised about the Indian team’s credibility while playing on foreign shores.

Prior to the start of the series, Dale Steyn had referred to the series as being a watershed test for India with increased expectations from the in-form Indian cricketing squad. Looking at the performance of the Indians though, the aura of superiority that the team had about it seems to have been completely obliterated.

The severity of the 2-0 loss was further exemplified given that it had been the batsmen – the stronger link of the entirety of the Indian team strength – who failed rather than the bowlers who managed to rein in the South African juggernaut as best as they could.

The 141-run and 134-run losses in the first and second ODI respectively were the result of the inability of the Indian batting order to come up with an adequate defence plan against the lethality of the South African bowlers. Or, to emphasise more pointedly, the lethality of Dale Steyn who was the pick of the Proteas’ bowling attack picking three wickets each at Johannesburg and Durban at an economy of slightly over three runs.

At both Johannesburg and Durban, India decided to field first having won the toss. The rationale behind that decision – after evaluating the pitch factor – was simple enough pinpointing towards the ease with which the Indian batsmen had chased down huge targets in tournaments prior to their South African tour. But on both occasions, India had to face a huge reality check as their openers lost their wickets cheaply and the middle-order crumbled without leaving any impact. Barring Dhoni and Kohli in the first ODI and Raina in the second, there wasn’t any Indian batsman – despite the changes to the squad – who looked like he could take the fight to the South Africans.

India’s decision to field yet again at Durban after sustaining a mammoth loss at Johannesburg also spoke about the Indian team’s underestimation of the opponents. The struggle that the Indian batsmen had to endure at Johannesburg was the tipping point that India failed to heed, even as the fate of the series hung in the balance.

Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma fell miles short of what was needed of them even as Dhoni was reduced to giving platitudes about the obvious shortcomings of the team. But even though the defeat in the first ODI could have been viewed a bit more kindly given the team’s lack of preparation, it’s the manner of loss in the second ODI that grates on perspectives far more harshly.

But where the Indian team’s fortunes have been largely in doldrums, the South Africans have made merry with the gamut of opportunities that have been presented to them. Quinton de Kock name is the first that comes to mind considering that the 20-year old proved his worth to the team beyond any doubt. Three centuries in three matches not only proclaimed him to be a good batsman, but also effectively went on to seal the wicket-keeper batsman’s place in the squad for the near future.

Contributions from captain Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and JP Duminy sealed the batting deal for the South Africans with Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Morne Morkel complementing Steyn in the bowling department whose efficiency promises to be more ruthless in the forthcoming test matches.

South Africa’s win over India also raised a very significant point about the aspect of advantage that home sides are said to have over visitors in cricketing tournaments. For in each way that the rationale is deliberated upon, taking into account South Africa’s most recent home series loss to Pakistan, it only talks about the incompleteness of the Indians rather than press or negate the so-called advantage of South Africans over them which, in turn, further moots out the ranking system.

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Blog by: Souvik

A year after the English sides caught the ire of the Champions League; it was the bowing out of two of the biggest names from the Italian Serie A that made the headlines this time around. Juventus and Napoli formed the two biggest casualties of this year’s competition in the group stages. While Napoli could count themselves unlucky with the results coming out as they did, Juve’s performances in the group left a lot to be desired and was probably the lowest point in Antonio Conte’s tenure at the head of the Old Lady so far.

The Groups of Upset 

GS-Juve

 

Snow and misery poured down at the Ali Sami Yen Spor Kompleksi as Group B claimed the first big casualty of the competition when Juventus were left floored. The defending Serie A champions, coming into the competition as one of its favourites were a poor shadow of themselves; managing to win only one of the 6 games in the group stage. Hail, snow and Wesley Sneider were enough to drill the final nail in the coffin for the bianconeri. However, even before the Dutch midfielder rippled the back of the net amongst ghastly conditions, Juventus had already made its bed. Conte summed it up perfectly in his post-game comment, “The regret is that we let everything go down to the last game”. You can’t say that you were put in a bad position after conjuring up only six points after first five games. Real Madrid on the other hand cruised through the same group with utter ease.

FBL-EUR-C1-NAPOLI-ARSENAL

 

Group F, the group of death in this year’s competition probably brought the biggest drama to the screens. Whilst Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund seeped through the cracks, Napoli was left distraught as the Italians were knocked out despite amassing 12 points in the group stage. Coming into the final game game, Napoli needed to beat Arsenal by 3 clear goals. Whilst an injury torn Dortmund side battled through to a 2-1 victory over a 10 man Marseille side to put their name in the draw for the second round, two second-half strikes from Gonzalo Higuain and Jose Callejon was just too little too late for the azzurri. Thus, Napoli became the first team to finish third with 12 points in a Champions League group and the first to be eliminated with such a tally since 1997.

The group also brought us the first ever French team to be eliminated from the group stages of the competition without having registered a single point in the form of Olympique Marseille who looked a class below their fellow groupies throughout the competition.

So close, yet so far

SL Benfica v Paris Saint-Germain FC - UEFA Champions League

 

The margin between a place in the last 16 of the Champions League and a place in the much maligned Europa League is thin. While a few rejoiced at clinching their place amongst the last 16 of Europe’s elite, some “giants” in their own respect drifted down to the second tire of European competition. Amongst the big names as per say that failed to make the second stage were the pair of Portuguese giants Benfica and Porto.

Benfica fluffed their lines for the second consecutive season, going out from the group stages for the second consecutive season whilst being tied on points. After Neil Lennon’s Celtic the previous year, it was the turn of a Kostas Mitroglu inspired Olympiakos this time around to upset the applecart for the Pourtuguese powerhouse. Group C proved to be too strong for Benfica as a last gameday win over PSG at the Stadium of Light wasn’t enough to see the Eagles through. It was their loss at the hands of the Greeks on Gameday 5 came back to bite them big time. Progress to the second round might now mean that Olympiakos will try and hold on to their prized possessions in the form of Manolas and Mitroglou who have constantly linked with big clubs from the big leagues. PSG meanwhile romped through the group, looking a class apart from the rest.

Club Atletico de Madrid v FC Porto - UEFA Champions League

 

Porto meanwhile crashed out of the group stages after impressing last season. The Dragões were eliminated had their home form to blame for their fortunes in the competition. The losses of Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez were clearly felt in their performances as they failed to record a single win at home in the group stages. That never bodes well for any club, let alone those with aspirations of going through to the second of Europe’s premiere club competition. However a weak group kept their hopes alive till the last game.  Porto however had the unenviable task of eking out a result away to the Spanish powerhouse Atletico Madrid. In the end it proved to be a too big a task as Atletico made short work of the Portuguese, romping home to a 2-0 victory which put out the light for good for the Lisbon outfit. Coming second in the group were Zenit St. Petersburg, who themselves were given a 4-1 hiding by last placed Austria Wien.

UEFA Champions League - AC Milan v Ajax

 

Another team that would go out of the competition heartbroken was Ajax Amsterdam. The Dutch constantly punched above their weight in Group H and set the cat amongst the pigeon with a victory over eventual group champions Barcelona in the fifth gameday. Going into their last game against Milan needing a win straight up front, Ajax however fell short of the target. A goalless draw was all that the Dutch could manage to take home from the San Siro. This leaves their future forays in Europe confined to the Europa League. Barcelona on the other hand, comfortably passed through the group in spite of losing to Ajax. The Catalans’ depth of talent made their route into the final 16 quite comfortable in spite of Lionel Messi missing a large chunk of the games.  Celtic meanwhile couldn’t pull off any tricks this time arpound as they bowed out of the competition tamely after managing to register a solitary victory over Ajax.

Chelsea might have found their European kryptonite in the form of FC Basel, but there was nothing much else to bother the Blues in these early stages of the competition. Like all Jose Mourinho’s teams, Chelsea remained astute at the back throughout the group stages, conceding a Champion League low 3 goals in the competition. Schalke on the hand got the better of Basel to qualify to the last 16 of the competition, defeating the 10 men Swiss team on the last day of the competition to keep their dreams of furthering Champions League adventures alive. Steaua Bucharest rounded out the group as the minnows of the lot.

The others

Group A failed to live to its billing as Manchester United and Bayer Leverkusen cruised through the group without having to break their stride.  United in Europe has been a different animal altogether when compared to their endeavours in the domestic league. Shakhtar as always  gave some brilliant displays of attacking football and still had a faint chance coming into the last game at Old Trafford. But there was no mercy to be had a t Old Trafford midweek as the Red Devils themselves looked to bring some momentum into their campaign this season after a couple of  hapless displays had seen them drop two games in a row at home in the Premier League. Real Sociedad however was the big disappointment of the lot as they failed to meet the lofty heights that they had set in the previous LaLiga campaign and folded tamely on their return to the competition after a decade.

There were no thrills or spills to be had in Group D as favourites Bayern Munich and a rampaging Manchester City made mincemeat of their competition. Neither Viktoria Plzeň, nor CSKA Moscow could build up any kind of strong challenge to the big powerhouses as their gap in class was well reflected in terms of the points in the table.

Blog by: Rohinee

Australia v England - Second Test: Day 5

A few months ago, the Australian cricket team found itself sinking in the wormhole created by the English bowling attack. The team was in chaos, answers were sought – home-works were given – before they finally surrendered to the English side.

In the few months that have separated that series and this, the transformation of the Australian side has been nothing short of phenomenal which has made the English team – still superior on paper – quake before the very rivals whom they had brushed aside quite easily.

Two losses in the opening two tests have put England completely on the back-foot, raising questions that they probably hadn’t even seen coming at them before the start of the series. The mammoth nature of the loss – 381 runs at Gabba and 218 runs at Adelaide – not only represented the sheer implacability of the Australians when it came to exploiting the playing conditions, but also brought out the inability of the English team to make it count.

At WACA, by all accounts, it seems as though the trend is bound to continue. Regarded to be the bane of almost every international cricket team, the natural bounce at WACA holds particularly grim memories for the English team with only a lone match win out of the totality of 12 tests played here. The last time that the English team had won at the venue was nearly 35-years ago in 1978, against an Australian squad that was playing without most of its team strength on account of their prioritising the splendour of the then newly launched Kerry Packer series.

The prospect then gets even more looming for the English squad. Their inability to construct and sustain partnerships has been the biggest letdown for them. Though Alastair Cook has spoken about the senior players coming through for the team, the seniority’s inability to effectively read and tackle Mitchell Johnson’s deliveries has been starker as compared to the newer members of the team.

If the batsmen aren’t able to develop and build on, on partnerships, the English bowlers have been inept when it has come to breaking their counterparts’ partnerships on-field. Graeme Swann especially has been a costly addition to the team so far and it would only be prudent for the visitors to replace him with someone who can at least stem the run-flow, if not take wickets.

The change in the way Australians have come to understand and gauge Swann’s bowling tactics is also indicative of the progress that the Australian team has made in these few months following the English Ashes summer. Mitchell Johnson is just the tip of the ice-berg with his confidence and impressive bowling spells leading the Australians’ Ashes reclaiming journey.

The thriving of Chris Rogers and David Warner at the opening has been obvious as has been the tentative yet unmistakable sureness in Shane Watson’s game. The team’s composition feels just right which may give Michael Clarke some pause for thought with regard to choosing the best possible squad from the ample resources available at his disposal. Nathan Lyon is expected to be a part of the Australian squad, to shore up their bowling department keeping in mind the pitch conditions at WACA. And though James Faulkner has been ruled out with an injured thumb, Australia isn’t exactly lacking for options lower down the order at this point.

In contrast, the English team has a huge task ahead of its in terms of team selection. Though the likes of Anderson and Broad have been doing decently well, the English bowling department still feels incomplete especially with Swann not being able to justify his inclusion in the team. Considering that Andy Flower has indicated of some definite team changes, one can expect Tim Bresnan to be included in the squad in order to provide the team with much needed bowling support.

But where the English team does have some replacement options for its bowling, its batting choices remain largely curtailed and as such the onus still remains piled on Cook, Pietersen, Bell and Prior to ensure that the team’s batting order doesn’t fall short under pressure.

Call it a home field advantage or call it the Englishmen’s slight detour from their otherwise calm composure, the 2013-14 Australian Ashes series has been entirely about the Australians so far. Though the English cricket team isn’t showing any signs of giving up, the English players do have to understand that there are a lot of areas where the chinks in their armour have been exposed and where they haven’t been able to stand up to the Australians. Playing with self-assurance – and potentially trying for a win – at Perth is their only chance at salvaging this series. A series that has so far, not only marked the return of momentum towards Australia, but has also brought an unmistakable re-emergence of the Australian cockiness and swagger, distinctively missing in their demeanour till now.

Blog by: Faiz

u-17-2031699

In a country where sporting atmosphere is largely dominated by cricket, a global football tournament is sure to promote the sport of football to reach newer heights. FIFA’s decision to award India the right to host the U-17 Football World Cup has been welcomed as a step in the right direction. In recent years, there has been a lot of effort to promote football in India and it has seen superstars like Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi come to the country. Such an event then is sure to push the horizons for Indian football far wider.

India bid for the tournament a second time this June, after its first bid made in January was rejected by FIFA’s executive committee due to lack of assurances. However, six months later, by narrowly beating out Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan as well as South Africa, India won the right to host the tournament. Republic of Ireland reportedly showed an interest but did not eventually bid. This will be the biggest football tournament to be played in India to date. In order to ensure that this tournament is hosted smoothly, a sum of around 100 crores is said to have been made available to the AIFF for the upgrade of stadiums in India.

The footballing event which takes place once every two years, is expected to boost the popularity of the rising sport of football in India. The decision to award India the hosting rights to the tournament have been widely welcomed by Indian footballers and pundits alike. Indian football captain Sunil Chettri was enthusiastic about the event and was hopeful about the sponsors investing into it well thereby promoting the sport. FIFA president Sepp Blatter is said to have taken a keen interest in India’s bid himself.

Indian footballing legend Baichung Bhatia also expressed his pleasure at the decision and said that the tournament will be a huge boost to football infrastructure in India. Also noting that this event had the potential to put India onto the world map, Baichung did insert in a reminder that it was important for India to hold the tournament successfully to boost the confidence of the people.

Being the hosts, India’s U-17 team will automatically qualify for the tournament. The 2017 event will be the 17th edition of the U-17 World Cup. 24 nations will compete in the tournament including the hosts India. The qualification will be through 6 different competitions in the respective continents. The final tournament will be conducted in six of the eight cities shortlisted: New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Margao, Kochi, Pune and Guwahati. Six of these will be selected by AIFF and be chosen as the venues for the tournament.

Indian football team, currently ranked 148 in FIFA rankings, has never really had an effect in football at the global level, and the stage is set for the Indian youngsters to have an impact that will reverberate around the footballing world, signalling the rise of a new face in world football.

Blog by: Faiz

2014 FIFA World Cup Final Draw

The run-up to the world’s most popular sporting event is officially under way. The teams have been finalised and the group stage draw has come out. And with that rise the speculations, the permutations and combinations of the teams we might see in the knock-outs. Different teams and fans evaluate their chances at taking home the most prestigious trophy in football. So which teams have gotten a favourable draw, and who has got the odds stacked against them? Here’s the deal.

The draw for the group stages of the World Cup 2014 took place in Salvador. The process was conducted by Secretary General of FIFA Jérôme Valcke. He was assisted by representatives of the eight World Cup winning countries – Cafu, Fabio Cannavaro, Alcides Ghiggia, Fernando Hierro, Sir Geoff Hurst, Mario Kempes, Lothar Matthaus and Zinedine Zidane.

The 32 teams were drawn into 8 groups as:

Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia

Group C: Colombia, Greece, Côte d’Ivoire, Japan

Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy

Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras

Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria

Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA

Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, Korea Republic

Talking Points

The “Group of Death”

United States would be feeling hard done by, after the draw. Having to face giants and World Cup favourites Germany as well as formidable opponents in Portugal and Ghana, US have their work cut out for getting to the knock-outs. With the toughest competition for the two knock-out spots, this Group G promises to be the proverbial “Group of Death” in the World Cup. Germany v/s Portugal on 17th June will be the pick of the lot, which will also be the 100th World Cup game for the Germans – the first team to reach the 100 mark.

The World Cup Debutant

European outfit Bosnia- Herzegovina are the new entrants for this edition of the World Cup, featuring in the tournament for the first time. The draw has been fairly decent for the debutants, except for the prospect of facing Lionel Messi and Argentina. Iran and Nigeria make up the other two competitors.

A second Group of Death?

The Group D in the World Cup also has a quite a few match-ups to watch out for. Uruguay, Italy and England all face-off in the group stage, with one of these heavy-weights sure to fall out of the tournament before the knockouts.

The Favourites.

The World Cup this time has a whole lot of contenders for the title. With lots of quality on display, it is really difficult to pick out a single team that stands out as clear favourites. Hosts Brazil are sure to fancy their chances of triumphing on home soil, and look really strong on paper. Moreover, Germany and reigning champions Spain are also real favourites for lifting the trophy, with several other sides also fancying their chances. That’s the beauty of football – you just never know.

Starting 12th June 2014, the premier football tournament will run for just over a month with the final to be played out on 13th July in Rio de Janeiro. The World Cup, consisting of 64 games, will kick off with its first contest played in Sao Paulo by hosts Brazil and Croatia. 32 Days later, the world will have one team that will push past 31 others to lay claim to being the best side in the world. Which one will that be is anyone’s guess.

Blog by: Rohinee

Australia v England - First Test: Day 4

Triumphs, heartbreaks and controversies marred the English leg of the Ashes. It thus came as a surprise to no one to see the retaliatory welcome that the Australians put up for the English squad for the return leg of the series. The English team which had prided on keeping a cool head above their shoulders, just a few months ago, was distinctly looking uncomfortable as the Australians unleashed one of their most powerful weapons to trouble the visitors.

Politeness was given as a courtesy in an offhand manner even as most of the Australian squad went on about gibing and jibing about the English team. The openness of the Australians’ derision was so palpable that the match referee had to intervene to ask both sides to maintain the decorum that the sport demanded. But no matter the English invoking to the different cricketing elements, there was no shying away from the enormity of the loss they sustained in the first test at Brisbane.

The aftermath of the loss also brought home a lot of hard hitting truths to the English side and the inconsistencies that festered in the team unbeknownst to anyone. The most obvious one was of Jonathan Trott’s lack of consistency and loss of form that forced him to abruptly truncate his Ashes tour after the completion of the first test and return home to try and get some focus off him. Trott’s departure coupled with the failure of several English batsmen to stand up to the Australian bowling irrevocably wrecked the winning continuity and pattern that the visitors had gotten accustomed to.

Mitchell Johnson was the biggest bane of the English team along with well-timed assistances in the form of Nathan Lyon and Peter Siddle. Stuart Broad – the man who was the recipient of the Australians’ homage to Harry Potter character Lord Voldemort’s sobriquet, ‘You-Know-Who’ – did well on the first day of the first test to rattle through the Australian batting order. But his efforts distinctly paled, when compared to Mitchell Johnson’s bowling accuracy. The way he was able to exploit the pitch conditions substantiated the reason as to why the Australians haven’t lost a test match at Gabba in over 20-years.

Though England is known to be able to regroup well into the second test match in any series – the one against India at the start of the 2013-14 season is a significant example – the team will need to bolster and marshal quite a few of its resources in order to be able to put Australia on the back-foot yet again.

The no.3 spot remains an important factor to consider. Joe Root who had enjoyed, till the Australian Ashes leg, an incredible debut cricket season has been pipped to be one of the choices to play in the position; the other being Ian Bell. Though promoting Root up the order to play at no.3 would be an interesting jugglery, asking Bell to come in at no.3 would definitely be a better option especially with him having notched good statistical figures playing in that particular position, on quite a few occasions previously.

Similarly, the inclusion of Bresnan will also have an impact on the match proceedings at Adelaide, with pitch conditions panning out differently to the conditions at Brisbane. The Australians may be opting to for an unchanged test squad but the lackadaisical play-making of their opponents is sure to bring about a few noteworthy changes to the English team. The pressure however will be more on Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Matt Prior to salvage the situation before it further deteriorates.

Australia will thus need to be on guard without allowing themselves to become complacent. Sledging and the rivalry-induced banter aside, David Warner, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin and Steven Smith are the batsmen who need to perform for the Australians. The positivity that Darren Lehmann has brought to the team has been quite obvious and it would be up to these guys to ensure that the team doesn’t lose its on-pitch aggression.

The Australians’ bowling has been exceptional and can be expected to continue to do well with Mitchell Johnson holding the key to their momentum. The English squad has been utterly flummoxed by the pace bowler and the Australians will be counting on Johnson to provide them with breakthroughs so as to enable them to continue maintaining a stranglehold over England.

Match Prediction: Match to be Drawn, Australia to lead England going into the Third Test, 1-0.

 

Blog by: Souvik

Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League

THE BIG GAME

The biggest game of the weekend takes us to North London where Tottenham; still reeling from their six goal drubbing at the hands of Manchester City play host to their cross town rivals Manchester United on Sunday. With both teams riddled with inconsistent performances, this has become a match which sees both sides sitting outside top four. This game this provides perfect incentives to both managers kick-start their campaign with a positive result. With the way this season has so far unfolded for either of the team, all three results remain a distinct possibility.

Spurs will be desperate to bounce back and reclaim their “big boy” status after coming unstuck in two consecutive games. The pressure on Spurs boss Andres Villas-Boas seems to be growing with disappointing result, but he is certainly not flinching in front of the media. The biggest problem for Spurs so far has been in front of goals. The North-Londoners have only managed to bag 9 goals in 12 league games so far with Roberto Soldado looking a pale version of his former self. The last time Spurs failed to score in 3 consecutive Premier League games was back in January 2009.

Manchester United on the other hand is coming off their biggest win in European football in nearly 50 years. The Red Devils offensive game seems to coming to tune at the right moment and that should spell more trouble for a Spurs side that is coming of six goal drubbing. With both Nani and Valencia putting in terrific performances in midweek and Kagawa finally finding his niche, the team selection shouldn’t be much of a problem for David Moyes with Robin Van Persie likely to start on the bench after missing the game in midweek.

City on the rampage

Manchester City has been ruthless in front of goal in recent games, hitting 22 goals in their last 5 which includes a surprising loss at bottom dwelling Sunderland where they drew a blank. The Citizens welcome Swansea to The Etihad, where they have scored 41 goals this season in 10 games. Sergio Aguero has so far been in sublime form (16 goals in all competition so far) and now with Navas and Negredo coming to the fore, the goals have been flowing for Pellegrini’s men.

Swansea’s resources on the hand are being stretched to fullest with their involvement in the Europa League this season. The Welsh were dealt a further blow when both Wilfried Bony and Angel Rangel picked up knocks midweek in their loss to Valencia. The swans will have to grind it out and put in a real shift if they want to get anything out of this contest.

Arsenal looks to stretch lead

The season has been going straight north so far for the North Londoners ever since the ugly defeat at the hands of Aston Villa in the first week of the campaign. The arrival of Mesut Ozil seems to have rejuvenated the side and they sit pretty at the top now with a 4 point gap.

The Gunners travel to Cardiff where the bluebirds lie in the wait. Cardiff City will be buoyed by their 2-2 draw against Manchester United last weekend and certainly be looking to play spoilsport once again. The two teams will be meeting in a league fixture for the first time in fifty one years and the last time that Cardiff managed to overhaul the Gunners was in 1961. Toppling the Gunners will again be no mean task for the Welsh side with Arsenal possessing arguably the most lethal midfield in the country.

A top of the table clash

None would have billed this weekends’ Chelsea vs. Southampton game to be a top of the table clash at the beginning of the season. As it stands, Stamford Bridge will play host to a game between the third and fifth placed sides in the league. In 12 games so far Mauricio Pochettino’s side have than staked their claim at the top of the table with the Saints garnering a reputation for being  one of the toughest sides to beat this season.

It has not been all plain sailing for Mourinho on his return to Stanford Bridge. Flamboyant performance against West Ham has been followed by despondent ones; like at Basel in mid-week. For the second time in the past few weeks Mourinho has suggested that his selection of the playing 11 has been main cause of mishaps rather than blaming it on the players. The “special one” certainly has to quickly figure his 11 out soon if they are to challenge for the title this season in all seriousness. With Samuel Eto’o out for the foreseeable future with a groin injury, Chelsea will be stretched for options upfront with Torres coming back from an injury himself.

Southampton on the other hand has been consistently doling out results with a miserly defence forming the base for their endeavours. With the victory over Liverpool at Anfield as the only big scalp for the Saints so far, this might be a perfect opportunity for Southampton to set the records straight and set a few cats amongst the pigeons at the top of the table.

Elsewhere
Liverpool travel to Hull where anything but a win would be a disappointing result for the Kop. With Daniel Sturridge expected to come back into the line-up, one would expect the SAS to strike again at the KC Stadium. Hull on the other hand possesses a mean defensive record at home. Steve Bruce’s men have conceded only twice at home in the EPL all season. The Tigers would certainly be looking to make home advantage count against to see off the dangerous Liverpool.

Newcastle meet West Brom at St. James’ Park on Saturday looking for a fourth straight win in the league for the first time since April 2012. Loic Remy has been on fire for Newcastle so far this season having already scored 8 of Newcastle’s 17 goals this campaign. West Brom on the other hand, comes into the game on the back of 3 game unbeaten streak of which two games ending in 2-2 draw.

Six games without a win have resulted in the pressure mounting on Sam Allardyce to deliver at West Ham. “Big Sam” as he is known lost Andy Carroll in the summer just after the English forward had put pen to paper on a permanent move to Upton Park. Allardyce has found mightily hard to find a suitable replacement and was been forced to re-signing Carlton Cole in a desperate measure after releasing him at the end of the last campaign. The Hammers welcome fellow strugglers Fulham in another all-London affair. Like Allardyce, Martin Jol’s team is looking for some form inspiration to drive the Cottagers away from the bottom of the table. Losing 6 of their last 8 league games has seen Berbatov and co. plunge to the bottom of the table and are currently occupying the last of the relegation places.

Norwich’s clash against Crystal Palace sees two teams who have collectively won only 2 of their last 12 games in all competition. While Crystal Palace looked rejuvenated in Tony Pulis’ first game at Selhurst Park, Chris Hughton would be looking to find the form that took his team 10 games unbeaten last season around this time of the year.

Bottom of the league Sunderland travel 13th placed Aston Villa trying to stay in touch with the others above them. The Black Cats have struggled mightily on the road losing all 5 of its last 5 away games. Villa on the other hand has had a season filled with inconsistency. Paul Lambert’s men have lacked the ability to eke out the results although their fast flowing football have so far deserved.

Everton and Roberto Martinez should be more than pleased with the early returns at Goodison Park. The Spaniard has continued to build on the good work of David Moyes as the squad looks even stronger. Martinez’s good work in the transfer business has seen Everton bolster their ranks with arrivals of James McCarthy, Gareth Barry and Romelo Lukaku; all of whom have played vital roles towards Everton’s strong start to the campaign. Three draws on the trot however, has seen the Tofees fall to seventh in the table, though only a single point off Champions League places. Mark Hughes and his Stoke team pay a visit to the Merseyside for this week’s fixture. Long associated with the long ball tactics under Tony Pulis, the team is still soul searching in terms of footballing philosophy under Hughes. They however still remain dull as ever in terms of entertainment value and look cosy in 14th spot.